Caleb Mattern's watch vibrated against
his nightstand. The second after the warning alarm went off and
the green backlight flashed, he rolled off the mattress fully awake
with his hand grabbing for the gun tucked between the bottom of
headboard and his of stack of pillows.
Dressed only in a pair of gray boxer briefs, he reached for the
watch and stalked in a crouch through his dark bedroom. The curtains
were drawn tight, not letting any light seep in and ruin his nightly
four hours of sleep. Any brightness and he wouldn't even get that
So, this is how the end would come. Trapped in a one-bedroom condo
in his underwear. He smiled at the thought. Or he did until his
fingers tightened on the weapon, causing his mind to snap to attention.
Being armed felt right. He could shoot, attack, roll. Do whatever
was necessary to stay on his feet and alive. He'd learned those
skills long ago and being out of commission on involuntary leave
from the job he loved didn’t change the adrenaline rush.
He stalked around the end of the bed, his feet quiet as they fell
against the soft beige carpet. Opening the door to the hall would
be more of a challenge. He rigged it every night. If someone got
into the place without triggering the alarm, a scenario he had a
hard time imagining but was prepared for anyway, he had a backup
plan to warn of danger. A loose floorboard just outside the bedroom.
A window that only opened two inches before the sirens of Hell rang
out. A hinge rigged to squeak if the door opened.
And those were just the obvious tricks.
As fast as his fingers could move, he tightened the screw at the
top of the door. At the right pressure it would remain silent and
he could pull off a stealth maneuver into the hall. But too long
in this position and any bullet traveling through the door would
hit him right in the gut. Not exactly the way he wanted to go out
of this world.
He made the final twist of the bolt and then pulled the door open
only the amount of space needed to slip through. Quiet echoed all
around him. Other than the low hum of the refrigerator down the
hall, nothing else made a sound.
The place was about seven hundred square feet. He liked it small.
Made it easier to strategize and attack if needed and it looked
as if tonight called for an ambush. If the intruder so much as breathed,
Caleb would be all over him.
Easing into the hallway, he hesitated just long enough for his
eyes to fully adjust to the dark. He stepped around the floor area
designed to give away his location and headed down the short corridor
to the open area. From there he could see every angle of the condo.
A shuffling noise sounded in front of him. His gaze swept over
the family room and into the small kitchen area on his left.
Well, nothing at eye level. A quick survey of the floor told him
what he needed to know. Not that he could see the intruder. But
the guy had made a mistake. The slimmest edge of a canvas bag stuck
out from behind the couch. Could be a trap but there were only a
few places for someone to spring up from behind him and Caleb had
his ankle wedged against the laundry door just in case someone managed
to curl up in there and hide. That left the few feet of space between
the couch and the television.
The rat-a-tat drumming of energy pounded through Caleb. He didn't
waste one more second waiting to get shot first. He ducked down,
using the piece of furniture as a shield. Him on one side and the
target on the other. In one smooth move, he launched his body up
over the top of the sofa. The first grab turned up only air. He
stretched forward on the second lunge, saw a flash of brown hair
and then grabbed a shirt collar and pulled back. Caleb shoved his
gun into the intruder's temple just as the screaming started.
He was she. A very pissed off she.
Arms and legs thrashed. Books from his coffee table fell to the
floor as she kicked out, missing the television by inches. Fingernails
scraped against his forearm. When she bit him, he shoved her away.
She lost her balance, careening right for the plasma screen but
she caught herself in time. She spun around, her eyes wide with
shock and chest rising and falling in a rhythm guaranteed to bring
on a heart attack.
Identifying the threat almost did it for him. It was as if the
blood stammered to a halt in his veins. "Avery?"
His muscles burned from the quick diversion from the fight. "Uh,
"Why are you sneaking around?"
Avery Walker, former boss and lover. She fired him exactly two
years ago next month. He dumped her right after. They'd carefully
avoided each other ever since. "That's my question. It's four
in the morning."
"And how did you get into my house?"
"I can explain."
His breathing finally pulled back to near-normal levels. "You
bet you will. And while you're at it, tell me what you're doing